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Judge slackens gag order on artificial conception case

Published 23/10/2015

A woman has been given the go-ahead to discuss a private family court case in which she was embroiled after a gag applied by a judge was slackened.
A woman has been given the go-ahead to discuss a private family court case in which she was embroiled after a gag applied by a judge was slackened.

A woman has been given the go-ahead to discuss a private family court case in which she was embroiled after a gag applied by a judge was slackened.

Ms Justice Russell had barred the woman from discussing the case - which centred on the future of a girl born as a result of artificial conception - earlier this year.

But another judge today approved the relaxation of restrictions after the woman and journalists raised concerns about limitations on freedom of speech.

Everyone involved in the litigation told Mr Justice Holman they agreed that the gag could be loosened.

And Mr Justice Holman rubber stamped an agreement - which will allow the woman to give interviews to reporters providing no-one involved in the case is identified in any report.

Ms Justice Russell had published an anonymised ruling on the case - and applied the gag - in April after analysing the case at private family court hearings in London and Birmingham.

Mr Justice Holman today considered concerns raised by the woman and Associated Newspapers - publisher of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, plus the Guardian newspaper - at a public family court hearing in London.

Both judges sit in the Family Division of the High Court and are based in London.

The woman had given birth to the girl, who is approaching her second birthday, after a man agreed to donate sperm.

She said she had entered into an artificial conception agreement with the man which would see her acting as the ''main parent and carer''.

But the man said the agreement was that he and his male partner would ''co-parent'' the youngster - with the woman continuing to ''play a role''.

He said the woman had agreed to be a surrogate mother.

Ms Justice Russell had ruled in favour of the two men after hearings in London and Birmingham. She had also criticised the woman in her ruling.

The judge said the woman had used ''offensive language'' including ''stereo-typical images and descriptions of gay men'' - and had ''insinuated that gay men in same-sex relationships behave in a sexually disinhibited manner'' and were ''sexually disloyal to each other''.

And she said the woman had ''disrupted'' the men's evidence at court hearings.

She said proceedings had to be ''interrupted on numerous occasions'' when the men were speaking so that the woman could express breast milk.

Interruptions were ''noticeably'' fewer and shorter when the woman gave evidence, said the judge.

Mr Justice Holman today heard from barrister Guy Vassall-Adams, who represented the woman; barrister Adam Wolanski, who represented Associated Newspapers; barrister Alison Moore, who represented a guardian appointed to protected the girl's interests; and the two men, who appeared in person.

The judge stressed that he was not an appeal judge and had no power to make rulings on the rights or wrongs of the restrictions imposed by Ms Justice Russell.

But he said he could approve a relaxation agreement.

He said the relaxation would come into effect in the near future when he had formally approved the wording of a new agreed order.

Mr Vassall-Adams said the restriction imposed on the woman - and the media - by Ms Justice Russell was "extremely wide".

He added: "My client should be able to speak to the press and should be able to give an interview to the press."

Mr Justice Holman said Ms Justice Russell's order was in "unusually restrictive terms".

"I do not know her reasons for making the order," said Mr Justice Holman.

"I have carefully used the word 'unusual'."

He added: "There is other language I could use but I prefer not to."

Today's hearing was listed as being in open court - and was attended by several members of the public.

Mr Justice Holman said he had staged the hearing in open court because he was considering issues relating to the right to freedom of speech.

He said "we all have" the freedom to "go to the press" and told the court: "If the press cannot report what is going on we have all had it."

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